My ASUS A8-series laptop bit the dust. It was barely 2 years old. It was still fast and reliable. Though the crappy ATI Mobility x1700 graphics card kept me stuck at Intrepid (Ubuntu 8.10 for the n00bs) due to no driver support, that laptop still worked great. It was named “teletran1” after the Autobot’s computer in the G1 series.
Teletran1 died of a broken screen hinge.
The hinge was strong metal. But it was screwed to very brittle plastic. That plastic went away and my laptop stopped opening and closing. I’ve lived with an epoxied screen for the past few weeks while I decided what to do.
Enter a company called System76. They sell Linux laptops, desktops, and servers. No Windows in their shop, just Ubuntu. They’ve achieved a very good reputation in the Linux community and their stuff seems to be very well built.
The idea of the out-of-the-box experience with a Linux computer had a lot of appeal to me.
Out of the whole laptop lineup, I was most interested in the Pangolin Performance and the Serval Professional. Both are 15.6″ widescreen (16×9) laptops. At the time I was shopping, the specs and prices were very similar too. Both could be had with the guts I wanted for around $1000.
And it would be really cool if you could click the above links and see the systems I’m talking about, but you can’t. A few weeks after purchasing my laptop, system76 upgraded both of these machines in their online store. So you can’t play with the configurator with the machine I bought. But anyways, I chose the Pangolin due to it being a couple hundred bucks cheaper and a couple pounds lighter.
Specs of my Pangolin Performance series 6:
- Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala) 64 Bit Linux
- Core 2 Duo P8700 2.53 GHz 1066 MHz FSB 3 MB L2 (25 Watt)
- 15.6″ WSXGA+ HD Display (1600 x 900)
- nVidia GeForce G 105M 512MB
- 500 GB 5400 RPM SATA II
- 4 GB – DDR2 800 MHz
- CD-RW / DVD-RW
- Intel Wi-Fi Link 5100 – 802.11A/B/G/N
- Just over a Grand shipped.
Since the P7 and P6 share the same chassis, this review is not totally dated immediately upon publication. The guts might be a little faster in the PanP7, but the chassis is the same. So read on.
Really, I’m not wasting my time with this review of a laptop that’s now 1 generation out of date.
First, the outside. The Pangolin has a sparky grey-black body. 5.8 lbs. It’s got a little heft, but it feels nice on your lap. Solid.
Not 10 seconds after I plopped the laptop in the lightbox, the Insecticons invaded. Oh well, at least they match the laptop’s coloring.
On the left side is most of the connections. We have 2 USB, 1 HDMI, 1 SATA, ethernet, and the monitor output. There’s also the fan exhaust and power input on this side. Oh, and the multicard reader ports on the far right of the photo.
On the right side, we have the CDRW/DVDRW, a 3rd USB port, and all of the audio ports. The modem port also lives on the right side.
Time to open it up. Though some people seem to not like it, I’m a huge fan of as wide a screen as possible. Being a programmer, the extra real estate helps while coding. And I get more room to shove my Photoshop tools. More room for everything, really. And the 1600×900 screen is just striking. I thought the one on my ASUS was clear. The PanP6 blows it away.
Up top, we have the webcam. And right above the keyboard are the Browser, Email, and Silent-Mode keys. And lemme tell ya, silent mode is VERY quiet.
Since my last laptop died due to hinge failure, I was worried about the hinge in the Pangolin. However, it seems very strong and well made. And 2+ years of posts on the Ubuntuforum only reveal one person with a system76 hinge problem. And that was not on a Pangolin.
The keyboard is the new “chicklet” type, where the keys poke up through the chassis. I’ve tried this style in the B&M electronics stores and have always liked it, so I thought I’d give it a go with this new laptop. After about 2 week’s use, I’ve gotta report that it’s outstanding. The keys are easy for touch typing and they have just enough give.
The 10-key on the side is pretty useful, even though I’ve never used it in 10-key mode. The placement of the PgUp/Dn keys is great and having two sets of arrow keys is wonderful. I tend to use the 8462 keys more than the traditional ones. And finally, the best thing ever, two delete buttons. I previously thought that a big backspace button was the must-have keyboard feature. Now I’m on the double-delete bandwagon. It’s amazingly useful.
Finally, the touchpad. It has these little raised pips all over it, giving you a tactile experience when you mouse around. I’ve never felt a touchpad like it. After 2 weeks, I don’t hate it. In fact, quite the opposite. And the side scrolling works GREAT!
The piÃ¨ce de rÃ©sistance is the Ubuntu key. While looking up specs and reviews, I found a few pix of this key, but never a very good one. It always looked like a cheap sticker applied over top of the Windows key. I can safely say that is not the case. It seems to be a little window in the middle of the key with a logo embedded underneath. It doesn’t quite look like the other keys with the raised circle, but I have no fear of it rubbing off.
Overall: this is a very well built laptop. I’ve found no game-stopping issues with it in 2 weeks of use. I’d recommend the PanP6/P7 chassis to anyone.
This would be an incomplete review without at least one screenshot. This is how I have it setup currently. The Dust theme, Gnome Do with Docky as my lower panel, and a clear xterm running on the screen background. If you click, you can see that I named the laptop bombshell after the little Insecticon who helped me so much in the lightbox.
You’ll also see the laptop idling at 800mhz and 42*C. This seems to be about how hot the system runs, which is not hot at all in my experience. My Asus A8 idled at 50-55*C. It was not very pleasant.
What works: (Sorry for the disorganized nature of this list)
- Virtualbox: works AMAZINGLY. You see it here in seamless mode, running Photoshop CS3. I hate to gush, but Vbox runs incredibly fast. As fast as my native copy at work on a Windows box.
- Wireless: works great. It uses the native Ubuntu wireless network manager and actually works. My old lappy ran wicd due to network manager never working right.
- Webcam: works fine! I used it once so that I could report on it here.
- Web browsers: no problems. Firefox, Opera, Chrome, are all rendering pages as they should.
- Gimp and Photoshop: No issues. I’ve seen screen refresh issues on other machines. Not this one. It’s snappy and fast. Processor temp rises to around 55-58*C at heavy use.
- Coding apps (I like Bluefish for web stuff): Silly fast.
- File transfer, both FTP to websites and to my file server here at home work great. No thought required. Just hit upload.
- Citrix: It was a little challenging to get 32 bit Citrix running in 64 bit Linux, but an hour of work was all it took.
- Flash and flash videos: They run smooth.
- I had a problem on the first day with the fan not reactivating after the system had decided it was cool enough to shut it off. This freaked me out. But this only happened on the first day. I’ve rebooted a few times since and have not seen that issue pop up again.
- I can’t get two-finger scrolling to work on the mouse. Of course, I’ve only spent about 5 minutes on it so far. But it doesn’t work by ticking the box in the mouse config.
- The system defaulted to “Performance Mode” on reboot. In other words, it idled at 2.53ghz. 10 minutes of surfing around on the ubuntuforum found the answer on setting it to “On Demand” on reboot.
Overall: This is the most stable Linux system I’ve ever touched. I’m truly impressed. I have zero buyer’s remorse and would recommend it to anyone. Even a Windows user.
After living with my S76 Pangolin for nearly 2 years, I’ve got some observations to make.
It’s a very well built laptop. No hinge issues. No fan issues. It still runs fast and reliably.
The battery is a bit weak, but it’s been that way from day 1. I was shipped with a weak battery. I reported this through the System76 support and received a replacement very quickly. And that replacement was even weaker. So, I shipped it back and kept my original. They never answered an email of mine on the subject after that.
The mouse has been difficult since day 1. If there’s the slightest bit of moisture on your finger, the cursor jumps all over the screen until you dry your finger and the trackpad. This can be minimized via mouse settings, but it has never been resolved. There were a few threads on the Ubuntu forums about this, but never any solutions posted by System76.
So, with 2 years of use, I’d pronounce it a decent laptop with mediocre tech support. Perhaps other customers get great support and my experience is unique, but it is my experience. That’s the only thing I can blog about.
Have enjoyed your site very much and benefited from the information. Many thanks!
Bombshell has totally taken over your laptop.
Maybe he’s the one who broke Teletran 1’s hinges!
nom nom nom
“Delicious hinges, eh Shrapnel?”
nom nom nom
“A little heavy on the electrons…”
Great review Adam. I own a Pangolin v4, and it has been great too me. The only issue I have ever had was the track pad recently died. I ordered the P7, and it should be at my home any day now.
This is how a review should be done. Thank you for the post, and be sure to post some more reviews when you have time. What are you planning on reviewingnext?
Thanks for the review. I’ve been thinking about getting a Pangolin and really appreciate your coverage of the still current chassis details and of your experiences with System76.
The teddies can’t wait to get their fuzzy paws on one of these.
Excellent review! Very helpful to me in considering a purchase of this model.
Wow. Great review and really glad to see the pictures. I just ordered one this afternoon and was googling around for better pics when via image search I stumbled on to this post.
So I am obviously really happy about everything I saw and read in your review. These pics are much better than the ones on System76’s site. In fact if anything, I was worried about the looks. I thought it might just be meh based on what I had seen. Now I can see that it’s incredibly good looking. Clean and professional. I can’t wait to get it.
This is a marvelous review! I was wondering quite exactly what this computer was going to look like in detail, and this perfectly describes all that’s needed and more! This does appear to be a fantastic computer and (after plenty of my own search trust me haha) one of the cheapest and actually really good computers you can find! Thank you very much for this well-said review!
After this, I think I’ll buy!
Very nice. I’ll be buying this for university. The only concern is, how often do they refresh? I don’t want to be in the same boat as you and buy an outdated machine.
Hmm, I agree with everything said about the quality of and support for my panp6. However, I ordered it on Halloween of “09, it took 28 days to ship from California to Colorado?!? I was never contacted by sales as to why. Apparently an LCD shipment glitch from their supplier. “Oh nobody emailed you? Sorry…” Then they had the audacity to email me three days later “Sale, the machine you just waited a month to receive is now $50 off!” Of course they didn’t word it like that, but it felt like salt in my wound. Then 2 months later, out come the p7″s. My advice would be “go for it,” despite my grumbles. It will be outdated as soon as it leaves the factory anyway. Hope that helps.
Wow, just when I thought our tastes couldn’t get more similar, I found out that you’re a programmer using Ubuntu on a laptop! My every-day computer is an old ThinkPad T42 running 10.04. It is a fantastic way to do all my normal computing, in terms of both hardware and software. Served me very well for my final year of school as well, taking it to and from school every day with no major issues except for a Samsung HDD which was replaced under warranty. The “Ubuntu key” is a nice touch.
NICE! Yeah, I’m also on 10.04 (which I affectionately dubbed Leaping Lemmings) with plans to stay on it till the next LTS. I got kinda burned out with the constant 6 month upgrade cycle.
But it’s a great little laptop. I’m typing on it now. It’s so much easier to use than Windows. Been off the MS for three years now and I’ve loved every minute!
Thanks for what might just be the best overall review of System76 I’ve found so far.
I emailed System76’s sales dept and received a response in 2 hours, WOW.
My conversation with one of their sales reps is listed below if anyone is curious.
Thanks for your interest in our laptops; my answers are below:
Question: System76 I’d like to know that the ram limits for each laptop would be. As well as how many ram slots are available for each model.
System76: The Pangolin has two RAM slots and a limit of 8GB total. The Gazelle and Serval both have four RAM slots for a total of 16 GB system RAM.
Question: Do all the laptops that support HDMI support 1080p output?
System76: Yes, all three of then support HDMI out at 1080p
Question: I’m most interested in the i7 processors in the hope that the machine would have a longer useable 3-5 year lifespan is ideal (taking into account that I’d likely have to swap out a hard drive or two and maybe RAM if they go bad)
System76: I’d say that 3-5 years is pretty reasonable, especially while running Ubuntu and on an i7.
Question: Additionally, Battery life estimates are not listed either is there a range? say 2hrs minimum up to 3 or 4?
System76: All three of them get around 3 hours. There is currently a bug in Ubuntu’s power management that causes battery life reductions in nearly all laptops. Once this gets fixed, these times will probably increase.
I’d like to add that I’m currently running an old Dual Core MacBook Pro which gets about 3-4 hours when running OS X and about 1.5 hours running ArchLinux w/ Gnome 3
From what I understand the battery life is a Linux Kernel issue and not a unique to Ubuntu. It’s probably safe to assume that Apple has the benefit to know the stats of all their various laptops and they can make adjustments to power consumption at the OS level.
Thanks for a great review Revlimiter.
Can you do a dual-operating system on this Laptop? Like run Windows 7 & Ubuntu? I like to play the little games on facebook sometimes. Does Skype work well on this Laptop?
Here’s another question. Is the new Hybrid drive a good idea? I am in the process of purchasing the Pangolin from the System76 website. I can get it without the Hybrid drive for a few $100 less. Plus, is an extended warranty really needed or is this telling me I will need it.
Dual OS: Should be no problem. There’s nothing unique about this laptop that says you MUST run only Ubuntu or anything. It’s just a laptop.
Skype: No clue. I don’t use it. Again, it’s just a laptop. No reason to think skype wouldn’t work on it.
Hybrid drive: Honestly, I’d still go with the standard ol’ magnetic platters. They’re cheap and a known piece. Technology on solid state drives is still maturing.
Thanks for the review. I was browsing system76 and I also got impressed by this pangolin laptop. I have two questions, if you would be so kind to answer:
1-Are you still happy with it?
2-How is the fan going?
The thing I hated the most with my current laptop is the fun noise (it turns on continuously apparently without any reason). Of course I’m running Ubuntu on it!
1: I am indeed still happy with it. It’s a great laptop and runs quite nicely to this day. I’m on Ubuntu 10.04 right now. I decided to stay with the LTS and see how it went.
2: Fan is working great. It runs a lot more in the summertime, obviously, but it’s nice. It turns on at 50*C and off at 45*C. It kicks up to medium at 60* and to high at 65*. It does make some noise on high, but it also works very well and knocks temps back down quickly.
As for the experience overall, I’m not sure I’d buy another System76 laptop. It’s a very good unit, but the hardware support is rather lacking. Mine was shipped with a weak battery. I put in a ticket and got a replacement battery. That one was actually weaker than the original. So.. I shipped it back and kept my original. System76 would not help me at all after this. No emails answered.
Now, it only charges up to 92%. I do keep it plugged in most of the time, so I’m not hurting. I get about 75 minutes on a charge.
The mouse (trackpad) has also been a weak point. It’s very jumpy. You can tweak it with system settings, but the hardware is just not great. There’s a few reports of this in the help forums, but no real fixes on the part of System76. It’s been an annoyance for me since day 1.
When I need another laptop, I’ll just be buying a standard brand name one. Toshiba or Lenovo probably. The money I save over a boutique laptop like one from S76 will be worth it.
Thanks again, this battery issue is indeed a bit worrying. I hope it was only your case, and not something general. I wanted to stop buying a laptop and after 5 min erase win, and put linux. It always feels like you have to put an “alien” OS, and pray that everything goes right. I hope this S76 will improve all the issues you listed, it could be a very good thing for free software.
I never knew you were a Linux user. I am as well, but I just use it on my Dell Studio 1555. No fancy 76 stuff here. 🙂
Brilliant review man! Ive been looking for a new laptop, Linux preferably. Came across System76, and I’ve been eyeing the latest Pangolin. From the concerns you’ve listed, I can only hope they have since then fixed. Probably going to dual boot with Win7. Thanks.